Holding a plate of chocolate cake while seated at a table in Ponderosa Steakhouse in Park Hills Plaza, cashier Ashley Koelle demonstrates what it was like doing her commercial.
As she tilts the plate forward, her eyes light up - like gold flecks suddenly congregating within her irises.
Altoona born and raised, Koelle wants to be an actress. Not merely an actress - a star.
Before she saw a sign for the commercial tryouts at the restaurant this spring, she hadn't done much to further her ambition, other than a few desultory e-mails to online-based talent agents.
They didn't work out, because "you can't tell what's real and what's fake," she said.
But the two-day experience shooting the commercials, which ran nationally this summer under the direction of an ad agency team in Athens, Ohio, has made those grandiose plans seem real.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Ponderosa Steakhouse cashier Ashley Koelle is hoping her role in a nationally televised commercial generates more opportunities for her as an actress.
The shoot has led to a tip from a neighbor whose cousin is an Los Angeles-based casting agent who grew up in Altoona, and to whom Koelle has sent a message.
The 21-year-old waitress earned her opportunity by shooting an audition video of herself, in which she explained why she deserves the chance.
"I told them how old I was, why I like to act," she said.
Name: Ashley Koelle
Parents: Tim and Peggy Koelle
Born and raised: Altoona, East End
Education: Keith Junior High School and Altoona Area High School, Class of 2007
Work experience: Burger King; Verizon Wireless 411 operator; currently sales associate and baker, Ponderosa Steakhouse
She ended up filming herself because her mom and sister were laughing too much to hold the camera still.
Her plea caught the judges' eyes, for they called in a couple of days with the invitation to Ohio.
"It's the first opportunity I ever had," she said.
She and other winning employees from Ponderosas around the country stayed in a nice motel, and when it was time to act, the young woman from Altoona didn't hold back.
An attack of shyness hit another young women and she couldn't carry through when it came time to get before the camera and recite the lines the director specified.
But that was no problem for Ashley.
She said it was a little intimidating at first to have a camera within arm's length of her face and 20 people surrounding her, but she just let herself go.
"I think about that girl" - the shy one, she said. "She'll probably regret it."
To see a copy of how the commercial turned out, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdayIOypEkM. Ashley is the second red-shirted Ponderosa employee in the video and appears and speaks twice.
"Our new and improved steaks," is one line; "Now that's a good steak," is the second.
The experience has fueled her ambition.
"I think about it all the time [now]," she said. "I'd love to be in big blockbuster movies. Or on a TV show."
"We talk about it a lot," said Josh Hamilton, general manager of the store. "You never know."
Koelle has wanted to act since the age of 2.
"I just like pretending," she said.
Pretending is what made her eyes light up while tilting the cake forward in imitation of her presentation of a 6-ounce steak for the commercial, she said.
She loves the attention. Even early in life, she was a "camera hog," she said. It was just the opposite for the rest of her family, all of whom flee at the sight of a lens.
"She's very vocal," Hamilton said, sitting next to her in a quiet wing of the restaurant during a recent dinner hour. "We're proud of her."
There aren't many opportunities to fulfill an actor's ambition in Altoona, Koelle said.
"I'm not begging for a job," she said. But she'd take one "in a heartbeat."
"She has the look, the smile," said fellow waitress Deanna Coffman, who said the thought of her young colleague living the American myth of Hollywood gives her "goosebumps."
"It's a big dream," Koelle said. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.